Verna Jeffries knows survival isn't just about staying alive, it’s about living life to the fullest.
Only 18 months old when a munitions ship exploded near her family home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, she went on to survive a bad marriage, cancer and a century of rapid change.
“I love it here, but I miss Nova Scotia,” she says from her room at Carveth Retirement Lodge in Gananoque where she has lived for almost two years. “If you went there, you’d want to stay there.”
The last living survivor of the most devastating man-made explosion in the pre-atomic age, Verna, 99, grows quiet talking about the explosion that killed more than 1,800 people and injured another 9,000.
“A lot of people died,” she whispers about the disaster that blinded more than 200 people and permanently marred her life.
Waiting inside her family home on Dec. 6, 1917, while her mother visited a family friend outside - Verna’s mother was thrown in the gutter when a ship packed with munitions exploded in the narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin.
When Vince Blankenborg arrives in Gananoque from British Columbia, he feels relief.
Passing through gates marking the heart of the Thousand Islands, the friendly IT specialist knows his father is in a safe place surrounded by people who care about him.
Turning on James Street, the young Blankenborg walks into Carveth Care Centre with a smile.
“It’s a real sort of comfort because dad’s safe,” says Vince from the retirement/long-term care home he visits twice a year.
A resident of Victoria for the past 25 years, Vince travelled home in the fall of 2015 to stand beside his father at a Remembrance Day Service on Nov. 11.
Sitting quietly in a wheelchair while his son points to pictures of his past, Josef Blankenborg, 89, blinks back tears as he listens to his son recite his accomplishments. His advanced dementia prevents him from making new memories. His tears are pure joy from the sound and sight of his loving son.